“I use the tools the game hands me. Also, there’d better be some tools.”

From this SG thread.

Steve wrote:

What do people reckon is the best value for buck in terms of preparation for GMing a session?

At the moment Im thinking its working on a cast of NPCs and their motivations and goals.

But Im interested in hearing otherwise, or ‘yes and…

And I was all like…I dunno:

It really depends on the game. This has become an impossible question to answer without knowing what game you’re playing, what the game is trying to accomplish and the tools it provides.

And he was all like, what:

How do you mean?

And I was all like, does this work:

I use the tools the game hands me. If the game doesn’t hand me tools, I probably won’t be playing it long.

Burning Wheel hands me the players’ beliefs, instincts, relationships, reputations, affiliations and traits all crossed up with the campaign’s situation. Those are the things I’m day-dreaming about as I think about the game, as I burn up monsters or NPC’s.

Sorcerer hands me kickers, demons and everything on the back of the character sheet.

Apocalypse World hands me MC moves, threats/fronts and all of the little descriptors in the playbooks.

Houses of the Blooded has aspects, family, domain/seasonal complications.

So, when you ask what the best practice is for doing prep as a GM, I say that best practice for me is to choose one’s system wisely so that the tools the game puts on the table helps us all have a solid game.

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10 thoughts on ““I use the tools the game hands me. Also, there’d better be some tools.”

    • 1974 OD&D gives almost no tools. I’ve had fun with it, but I know that, by Judd’s analogy, it’s a game for toolmakers. I’ll jury-rig backstory and connection tools, thinking about what tricks I’ve learned from other games (like IAWA and PTA). But without that kind of work it’s just a blank page with “KILL MONSTERS” written on it. On its own that gets me nowhere.

        • Not in the 3 brown books, no. There’s a list of equipment by price, including weapon damage and armor classes, and short descriptions of monsters, and spells. There’s nothing on using the stats to adjudicate actions. Pretty spare.

        • Oh, I should add – there ARE experience tables per class and each monster has experience tacked on. That’s the “KILL MONSTERS” bit.

    • I would argue that it’s more common for RPGs to not provide any tools, if you look across the history of the hobby. Mechanics (or even advice) that make manifest what the game is about and what the players want to do is, IMO, a pretty recent thing. Disadvantages from HERO (and, thus, GURPS) were about the closest thing we had for along time, and even those are unreliable.

      • Not every game has really well integrated tools and not every game is made to do what I want it to do. I’m cool with that.

        There’s something here, something about lots of folks playing every game in the exact same manner and games written not to take folks too far out of their comfort zone. I’ll marinate on it.

  1. I remember running L5R, having things go wrong, then deciding to actually look at the GM’s advice to find two pages of non-contexted stuff like, “Be tough, but fair” (be tough and fair at what? What’s the procedure? etc.)

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